Monday, 2 November 2015

The Technopia Tour of The Press Club Kitchen, Melbourne




I came to Melbourne to participate in the gallery programme and symposium Performing Mobilities and also a part of the same programme was Technopia Tours offering daily tours of Melbourne at work. Today's tour was a visit to the Press Club kitchen, other tours during the week took groups to a recycling plant, the State Library and a public water facility. Technopia Tours is a curatorial project initiated by Kim Donaldson working in collaboration with both artists and non-artists which has resulted in several previous manifestations in the form of exhibitions and performances. One of the project's strategies, I gathered, was to draw upon tourism and find how it might inform and offer ways into the appreciation and experience of art.


We gathered outside RMIT Gallery where orange, high-visibility jackets were handed out. As a group, we then walked about twenty minutes south through the city-centre to our destination, The Press Club. Wearing these brightly coloured jackets gave us a presence on the street; passers by saw us and quickly then ignored us as we hid in plain view. When we passed others similarly clad, they'd as often as not clock us as fellow workers, the practical people who keep the city moving as opposed to the suits or shoppers who clutter the pavement. That said, we did not precisely look like construction workers or traffic wardens, we were more like a team of inspectors or busy-bodies en route to a construction site.


We arrived at our destination The Press Club



We were greeted by Robert the sous-chef who was to lead the rest of the tour. He introduced the restaurant: high-end contemporary Australian/Greek established by the celebrity chef George Calombaris. He spoke confidently and did so as a chef not as a salesman or a tour guide might do. I find it is interesting that when you get given a tour by someone whose main job is giving tours, they have different relationship to and thus take on the location to someone who has a regular job there and who is stepping out of it to show you around. The worker/guide is more liable to be interrupted with questions from other staff, who they will have a deeper relationship with and you get more of a sense of the place being in process. The tour guide is outside of time and floats through.



We were shown the equipment in the experimental kitchen: centrifuges, vaporisers and some scientific devices that I wouldn't know how to even begin describing. He admitted that while some of them were useful there was also a white elephant in there that they had still not figured out any gastronomic use for. Curiously, he also told us that they needed to prove that they were a genuine kitchen using this equipment for food as some of these babies could be used to manufacture illegal drugs. He said that although they do make good use of some of these machines they don't go in for adventurous chemistry style experimentation that would not taste any good. It remains a restaurant kitchen, after all. This makes perfect sense for a serious business but looking at these white metal boxes I was momentarily thrown back to a notorious art-meal I organised which involved all the guests bringing a can of food with the label removed. The three courses that resulted were more, or mostly less successful attempts, to salvage edible dishes out of what we found when the cans were opened. Serious amounts of alcohol were required to wash that stuff down but boy, we would have had some fun with these toys!



We took a brief look at the dining room before descending downstairs to the main kitchen where the real action was. The rest of the kitchen staff were busy preparing for the lunch and while tolerant of us, regarded us as a distraction.


I've worked in kitchens before and when the atmosphere is bad in the kitchen it seeps into the food and spills over into the service in the restaurant too. I could sense that there was a pretty good atmosphere amongst the staff here and that they were serious about making good food that people would come back for. The question that was running through my head as I was surveying the scene, looking at the artichokes awaiting creative treatment and  meat stock simmering away, was, how much does it cost to eat upstairs? None of us were rude enough to ask this most obvious of questions. 


The tour drew to an end in the refrigerated room amid boxes of mineral water, hunks of meat and boxes of vegetables delivered fresh from the city's markets this morning. Those standing by the door asked questions while those of us pushed into the room's deeper recesses shivered and prayed for a swift exit. This Technopia Tour was much more like a conventional tour than I was expecting; it functioned as a gentle framing device that delivered us to Robert and his kitchen. Taken for what it was, it was an interesting morning's backstage tour of a high-end restaurant that left more than a few of us thing, I'd like to eat here. How it fits within the broader project of Technopia Tours and engages with performance and art languages is another question. This felt to me like a way of making the research that informs the curatorial practice, public. How, exactly, this experience is then reconfigured is something I'd be interested to see.

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